Theories of offending

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Somatotype theory - AO1s

  • Proposed by Sheldon - 1949
  • Aggressive + criminal behaviour based on physical appearance

Sheldon proposed 3 body types:

  • Endomorph - fat/soft/relaxed/social/loving nature
  • Mesomorph - muscular/aggressive/uncaring/deceiving - THE CRIMINAL!
  • Ectomorph - thin/fragile/introvert/self-conscious


AIM: investigated link betwenn body shape + criminality

: photos of male delinquents + college students rated by Sheldon on scale 1 -7 based on the 3 body types

: mesomorph rating for delinquents = 5.4  mesomorph rating for student = 3.8

: male criminal delinquents associated with mesomorphic body shape 


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Evaluation of Somatotype theory - AO2s

Methodological issues:

  • when selecting sample of delinquents / didnt use legal criteria for defining 'delinquent'
  • Sheldon's data re-analysed using legal criteria / found no association between delinquency + mesomorphic body type
  • Sheldon rated photos himself / biased

Cause + effect issues:

  • high testosterone = impact body shape = more aggressive
  • people with muscular build / learn from early age can only get what they want by being aggressive + dominant
  • muscular body type attractive to gang members = entice them to commit crime = as more successful at offending

Wrong assumptions:

  • Sheldon automatically made assumption college students = innocent / they too may have commited crimes in past / so not suitable comparison for this experiment
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Atavistic form theory - AO1s

  • proposed by Lombrosso - 1876
  • "criminal separate species - between modern + primitive humans"
  • physical features of head + face determines 'born criminals' / criminality inherited by genetic transmission of atavistic features + primitive characteristics
  • Characteristics of a criminal: large ears/high cheekbones/prominent jaw/curly hair
  • 'ciminals BORN NOT MADE!' (as these features heritable)
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Evaluation of Atavistic form theory - AO2s

Methodological issues:

  • didn't compare criminal with non-criminal / no comparative measure if physical features associated with criminals
  • Lombrosso's sample group had people with psychological + physiological disorders / he may have confused criminality with psychopathy
  • wasn't scientific

Issues in society:

  • said dark skin = criminal characteristic / leads to Prejudice + Discrimination + Racism + stereotyping

Cause + effect issues:

  • environment could cause change in features / so nurture side of nature + nurture debate
  • theory leads to Self-Fulfilling-Prophecy / expect a person to act a certain way / point gets reinforced / person fulfills it / so actually becomes a criminal
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Bio theory of offending (gene transmission) - AO1s

  • Twin studies used to measure genetic influence - as they have same genes
  • identical twins = monzygotic (MZ)
  • non-identical twins = dizygotic (DZ)

Lange study

  • MZ twins = 77% concordance rate of having criminal tendencies
  • DZ twins = 12% concordance rate
  • therefore suggests that criminalilty is inherited / when both twins show criminal behaviour it must mean it's INNATE (= born with it)
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Evaluation of gene transmission/twin studies - AO2

  • low concordance / rates are not 100% / so environment may also influence
  • twins share same environment + upbringing / so unable to distinguish whether it's genes or environment
  • MZ twins treated as one so both want to be criminals = so high concordance rate for criminal behaviour / DZ twins treated independently + separately = so low concordance rate for criminal behaviour 
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Bio theory of offending (adoption studies) - AO1s

  • if twins adopted separately nature + nurture gets changed

Mednick study

AIM: study heritability of criminal behaviour in adoption study

METHOD: Danish adoption data / conviction rates of males compared with their biological + adoptive parents

RESULTS: 20% males = biological parents had convictions / adopted parents no convictions
13.5% males = biological parents no convictions / adopted parents no convictions

CONCLUSION: highlights a genetic effect in male adopted twins 

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Evaluation of adoption studies - AO2s

  • children often adopted at later age / many learnt criminal behaviour from their biological parents before
  • upheaval of going to a different environment during adoption / may cause criminal behaviour
  • even adopted children placed in matched environment to thair biological parents / so environment still plays a part
  • biological theory very reductionist / reduces complex precesses to oversimplified theory 



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Bio theory of offending(chromosomal approach)

  • There's been attempt to link criminal behaviour to possession of extra Y chromosome
  • Y chromosome determines maleness / responsible for male sexual development + testosterone / so more aggression


  • Atypical chromosome pattern XXY in 1.5% of prison population / only 0.1% in normal population 

Evaluation of chromosomal approach - AO2s

  • Further studies failed to confirm the link / Witkin found = only 12 out of 4500 had extra Y chromosome + none of them were offenders / so theory cant be accepted
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Bowlby's study - AO1s

  • maternal deprivation = bond with mother is broken
  • 44 thieves study / use of retrospective case studies / showed a link between separation from mother before age of 5 + 'affectionless psychopathy'
  • used control group of 'less disturbed youngsters'
  • concluded disruption of attachment bond between child + mother leads to juvenile delinquency (criminal behaviour)
  • Bowlby stated if maternal bond broken before child 2 and half yrs old = leads to serious effects on intellectual, social + emotional development
  • Predicted these effects are permanent + irreversible 
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Evaluation of Bowlby's study - AO2s


  • Qualitative data / rich + detailed / better understanding


  • Retrospective data / leads to telescoping (fill in the blanks in your memory) as it looks at events that happened in the past
  • Issues with bias / reliability
  • No simple cause + effect
  • Control group of 'less disturbed youngsters' / is subjective / how do you measure that?
  • Very pessimistic
  • Rutter said Bowlby confused deprivation (existing bond broken) + privation (bond was never formed) 
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Rutter's Isle of Wight study - AO1s

  • Privation = never forming an attachment bond
  • Rutter argued 'affectionless psychopathy + delinquency' more likely to result from privation (not deprivation like Bowly said)


AIM: looked at delinquency in young teenage boys from Isle of Wight

: found little evidence for a link between early separation + delinquency /

: argued family discord (E.g:arguing) more contributory to offending behaviour than separation = as bond is never formed (privation)


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Brain abnormalities in murderers - AO1s

Raine Study

AIM: ivestigate patterns of brain activity in murderers compared to non-murderers using PET scans

METHOD: Ps (men + women) charged with murder / they had mental disorders: brain damage/learning disability etc / brain activity was measured with PET scan agter radioactive glucose injection
RESULTS: when compared control group + murderers significant differences found: murderers = less activity in frontal areas of brain / less activity in between 2 halves of brain (corpus callosum) + different levels of activity in amygdala
CONCLUSION: areas with abnormal activities associated with - aggression / lack of fear / low self-control

Raine said both nature + nurture / as could be biological causes + environmental triggers present

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Behaviourist theory of offending (Sutherland) - AO

Sutherland's 'Differential Association Theory'

Offending behaviour learnt from attitudes, motives + techniques for commiting crime
Learning from close association with other people
From these people offenders learn deviant values + norms 

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